This entire article is available in Full Text to registered users.

A Review of Antidepressant Therapy in Primary Care: Current Practices and Future Directions

Sidney H. Kennedy, MD, FRCPC

Vertical divider

ABSTRACT

Objective: To provide general practitioners with a comparison of major depressive disorder treatments received in primary care and psychiatric clinic settings, a focus on treatment outcomes related to currently prescribed antidepressants, and a review of new and emerging therapeutic strategies.

Data Sources: English-language evidence-based guidelines and peer-reviewed literature published between January 1, 2005, and December 31, 2011, were identified using PubMed, MEDLINE, and EMBASE. All searches contained the terms major depressive disorder and unipolar depression, and excluded the terms bipolar disorder/manic depressive disorder. The following search terms were also included: naturalistic study, antidepressant, relapse, recurrence, residual symptoms, response, remission, sequential medication trials, and treatment-resistant depression.

Study Selection: Meta-analyses, systematic reviews, and practice guidelines were included. Bibliographies were used to identify additional articles of interest.

Data Extraction: Abstracts and articles were screened for relevance to primary care practice. Population-based studies and those involving patients treated in primary care were used whenever possible.

Data Synthesis: Achieving remission from a major depressive episode is important to improve functional outcomes and to reduce relapse and recurrence. Despite the availability of numerous antidepressants, as many as 50% of patients require treatment modifications beyond first-line therapy. Among remitters, 90% report residual symptoms that may interfere with function. Patients treated in primary care often have chronic depression (symptom duration ≥ 24 months at presentation) and medical comorbidities. These are clinical predictors of worse outcomes and require individualized attention when treatment is initiated. Antidepressants differ in efficacy, tolerability, and side effects—factors that may affect adherence to treatment.

Conclusions: Major depressive disorder is highly prevalent in primary care and is among the most common causes of loss of disability-adjusted life-years worldwide. There are few differences in clinical profiles between depressed patients in primary care and those in specialist clinics, although differences in symptoms and comorbid conditions among individual depressed patients present a challenge for the physician providing individualized treatment. The goal of treatment is remission with good functional and psychosocial outcomes. Physicians in primary care should have expertise in working with a number of current antidepressant approaches and an awareness of new and emerging treatments.

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2013;15(2):doi:10.4088/PCC.12r01420

Submitted: May 30, 2012; accepted December 10, 2012.

Published online: April 11, 2013.

Corresponding author: Sidney H. Kennedy, MD, FRCPC, University Health Network, EN8-222, 200 Elizabeth St, Toronto, Ontario M5G 2C4, Canada (sidney.kennedy@uhn.ca).